Erin @ 'Hatef**k' - still raw in the cultural consciousness

What’s it about?

A literary professor and a novelist meet at a party and do the title action. A LOT. 

My experience.

I love rom-coms with every fiber of my being.

When I saw that this play was listed as the opposite of a meet-cute romance, my first thought was:

Well, if I see it, I’ll have an excuse to watch 27 Dresses multiple times in a row and not have people worry about me.

I went in expecting to be sad about relationships (the male lead played Kelly’s love interest on a few episodes of The Office) and I DID come out sad... but for a very different reason.

The play centers around Layla, a literature professor at Wayne State University (this is very important, apparently), and Imran, a successful novelist, who begin a relationship after she sort of breaks into a room in his apartment. They’re similar in a lot of ways: They’re Muslim, but not tremendously religious; they have the same sense of humor; they're both extremely eloquent and they can't seem to keep their hands off of each other. But they differ in a key way: They disagree vehemently on the way Muslims should be portrayed in the media. This stems from the fact that Imran’s best-selling books feature Muslims in more antagonistic roles, which Layla views as counterproductive to the plight of American Muslims. As their relationship develops, they discover that while they can ignore their disagreements during sex... that isn't the most permanent of solutions. 

The issue that their entire relationship is built upon is a complicated one. Representation is not an easy quandary to solve, and is there even a right answer to the question of how vilified minorities should be portrayed in the media? This play doesn't seem to think so. Listening to Imran and Layla argue (punctuated by frequent sex breaks) for an hour and a half didn't answer the question for me, but I don't think it was supposed to. Instead of giving a solution, it presented the problem in a manner that forces you to explore it, by making you listen to two very educated, articulate, passionate people destroy their relationship over a debate while in various states of undress.

This is a timely play and, recently, unfortunately so. I saw the show on Friday, March 15, about 24 hours after the mass shootings in the New Zealand mosques. Although the issues raised in the play are far from theoretical, seeing it with that event still raw in the cultural consciousness provided a terrifyingly mortal lens for the experience. In the amount of time it takes for a bullet to leave a gun and enter someone's body, that relationship can be destroyed, that debate can be ended. Layla and Imran argue like they have all the time in the world, but what if they don’t? 

The portrayal of Muslims and the general attitude toward Islam in the media have stakes that become higher and deadlier as act of hate follows act of hate. And perhaps this is why the play does not put forth an answer. The presence of this argument has to be enough in an era when there is no clear answer. If we are having these arguments, then we know that although people may disagree, the arguments are at least being had. The problems, ranging from increasingly dangerous anti-Muslim reporting on the news to stereotypical fictional characters, are being addressed. There is no way to fix a problem unless you know about it, unless you think about it and unless you argue about it. 

This is a wonderful play. The writing is smart, snappy and truly satisfying. Obviously the cultural lens through which it will be currently viewed is regrettable, but it makes the play all the more important. A rom-com it is not, but that's probably for the best. 

One final thought: There is a lot of sex in this show. It’s fine and necessary... but I hope you are not surrounded by people who remind you of your grandparents when there are handcuffs brought out on stage. Because I was. And although I did not know any of these older white people... I feel a very uncomfortable bond to them now. 



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